By the third day our bruised and smelly bodies, cat-scratched faces, and shivers were not aided by breakfast. Boiled broccoli in a broth with-you guessed it!-more tortillas. Again we said our thank-yous and miserably dug into broccoli at 6:30 in the morning, which just felt wrong on so many levels until we considered that this is what the family ate each day. It broke my heart as the children kept coming in and out of the room just to watch us eat, their sun-burnt dirty faces watching our every move as if we were from outer space.
Which we might as well have been.
What I found to be more disturbing was that the two young sons in the family were clean and well-dressed while the girls were unkempt and filthy. I thought it very sad, but a reality nonetheless.
Our final stretch to Todos Santos turned out to be entirely on main roads. Due to the fact that we all needed to be back in Antigua for various reasons that night, we elected to cut down on the journey by taking two pick-ups that pulled over for us at various stages of the journey.
Arriving in Todos Santos was like arriving at a carnival. Never in my life have I witnessed a town where each man and woman had corresponding matching outfits. The men wore matching red pants with white stripes! It was market day and there were some other festivities going on as well which we were lucky enough to observe with earnest.
Unfortunately, it seemed that the town’s sewage and pipe system was getting a massive overhaul and the entire downtown section lay in rubbled as people were forced to pass by the ten foot deep trench on either side with wooden planks.
After a traditional lunch, we went to pick up Francesco and Nico’s backpack which they had paid heftily to have transported to the end of our trek. Disaster: it had not arrived despite being promised that it would arrive the night before. Francesco was not happy.
Nico, our guide, was extremely unhelpful and just muttered something about how bags usually had shown up by now, and that hopefully it would arrive at some point that day. Francesco and I headed out to the bus terminal to see if any transport was arriving that might have the pack. We were dismayed to learn that the last bus to Huehuetenango was leaving in fifteen minutes.
Damn. Our only connection to Antigua.
We went to find another location that we were told might contain arriving micros. It was clear on the other side of town. Half way there, Francesco got a text from Nico saying that the pack had arrived! There was no time to lose: Francesco told me to run and hold the bus going to Huehue and that he would run back to Nico and get the rest of our stuff and meet me there.
I ran uphill through the rubble-lined streets as fast as my worn out legs could carry me and back to where my memory told me we’d found the bus in the first place.
It was just pulling out as I screamed “Pare! Pare! Por Favor…Me espere!” which I’m not even sure is correct Spanish, but it nevertheless got the bus attendant’s attention. He replaced the rock next to the bus’ wheels as I breathlessly explained that three more people were on their way.
The journey back to Antigua later evolved into a nightmare. I’ve written already about a exhilarating experience I had on a chicken bus. This was not exhilaration, it was more like a taste of a cattle train during the war. In Huehue we tried to transfer to a bus for Antigua and were told it was full and we’d have to take the next one, which happened to the be the last one headed in that direction.
When it arrived, my heart sank as the doors opened to reveal it already packed with not even standing room left. And yet, the bus workers urged us to wedge our bodies into the swath of sweaty pressed bodies, using all our might to force ourselves into the human sandwich at the rear of the bus. Francesco took a seat on the roof, only to be yelled at and forced to join us in the solid lung-squeezed crowd.
I’ve never been so uncomfortable in my life. It was impossible to even remove a sweater. I couldn’t move my arms. My feet weren’t even pointing in the right direction. It was unreal. And in all this craziness, the unthinkable happened:
The bus conductor asked us to make room for him to come through and collect our fares! WTF? Can you even imagine? It was ludicrous, he kept yelling at me to move and I wanted to punch him in the face, only I couldn’t free a hand.
How long was this going to last? A few people said that a handful of people might deboard in Los Encuentros, but that it was a little over an hour away. God. Could I stand it? Did I even have a choice?
Just as I was trying to find my inner happy place, someone yelled for the bus to stop so that he could jump off. The only way he could exit at the rear was if Francesco and I exited with him and then re-climbed into the bus. Which I did by climbing the ladder and jumping back up on the high platform.
Except that I hit my head doing so. Hard.
At this point, I could feel myself losing emotional control and I begain sobbing at the pain. Thankfully, Francesco asked someone if they’d give up their ledge of a seat to me as I seemed to be hurt. I wasn’t sure if sitting in the solid mass was much of an improvement, but at least I wasn’t relying on the pressed bodies to keep me from falling over as the bus took bends in the road.
After leaving Todos Santos at 1:30pm, we finally arrived in Antigua four buses and eight hours later. Mustering just enough energy to grab some food, we ate and then passed out in our three-bedded room at Casa Jacaranda.
I was destroyed. What an adventure we’d had.
Where: Nebaj to Todos Santos, Casa Jacaranda in Antigua
When: 19th of March
How: Hike to Todos Santos, Chicken Bus to Huehuequetango, Bus to Xela, transfer to bus to Antigua, transfer at Saint Lucas